Note : This story was published in ‘The Scribes World’, a Press Club of India publication in March 2021.
It has been more than an year since coronavirus outbreak in India. And when we were optimistic about coronavirus bidding us bye, here comes another wave. Recent stats say that as many as 70 districts in India have reported a 150 percent increase in the number of Covid-19 cases over the past few weeks. Researchers are trying to uncover why the coronaviruses cause more severe illness than other viruses. There has been a widespread application of genomic approaches to understand the epidemiology and evolution of SARS-CoV-2.
A genome is all genetic material of an organism. It includes all of the hereditary instructions for creating and maintaining life, as well as instructions for reproduction.
**Unique Coronavirus Genome**
The SARS-CoV-2 is a single-stranded positive RNA virus and one of the largest among RNA viruses with a size of 29.2 mb. It is equivalent to size of a song or video that you download or a hi-resolution image that you click with your high resolution camera. It seems to be small but in case of viruses it is the largest size. We can also say that Coronavirus has this much of data enclosed in it. SARS and MERS belong to the same family and their genome are almost alike. Coronavirus share about 82% sequence identity with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV and more than 90% sequence identity for essential enzymes and structural proteins.
Genome Sequencing is the master key to detect coronavirus. With this technique a very effective CovidSeq test has been designed. Globally the first field validation of the COVIDSeq test was undertaken by Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB). Since then, IGIB has extensively applied the COVIDSeq test for understanding SARS-CoV-2 reinfection cases and epidemiology of the virus in several states in India.
> The availability of the genome sequences in the public domain has provided a unique view of the introduction, evolution, and dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in different parts of the world. A number of approaches have emerged for rapid and scalable sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from clinical isolates.
> Senior Project Associate Dr. Rahul C. Bhoyar at Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) explained.
Genome sequencing even helps in detecting the new strains of coronavirus and also highlights the severity and complexity of the same.
> Dr. Sridhar Sivasubbu at Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) highlight
> “It was suggested that some mutations could be linked to the virus spread and pathogenicity. Several mutations identified in France were shown to increase the receptor binding capacity, which could contribute to high virus spread and severity of the disease.”
Mutation of a virus is the most difficult thing to handle. A recent scientific study by Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology confirms that 7,684 mutations detected so far make the virus more infectious. The behaviour of mutations is being constantly and closely watched and 3,500 strains have been sequenced so far. Scientists are of the opinion that genome sequencing is a must in India to manage the mutations in the structure of the virus and to develop a treatment and prevention strategy as per these changes.